At the May 28 City Council meeting, council members scheduled a special meeting to consider ways to reduce the impact of commercial cannabis growing outside of city limits. Councilmembers will seek more effective communication with the county, with the aim to change the current handling of unincorporated Carpinteria regulated by the county.
Over 20 citizens came to City Hall to give public comments, particularly about concerns with cannabis activity in the unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County that is part of the community but outside Carpinteria city limits.
While activities in the unincorporated area impact the city of Carpinteria and many of its residents, the area is not in the council’s jurisdiction, limiting the body’s potential actions. Much of the public’s frustration is linked to recent changes in state and county policies that regulate cannabis. New commercial cannabis businesses must obtain proper licenses and permits. However, under the county’s Article X, up until recently, businesses existing prior to the implementation of Prop 64 (legalizing recreational marijuana statewide in 2016), were able to operate under a provisional/temporary license without complying to the newer county regulations. Article X’s amortization period expired on May 8, 2019, and any cannabis business that failed to obtain or maintain its provisional/temporary licenses or failed to apply for the proper permits has either been shut down, or will be soon.
Currently, according to City Senior Planner Nick Bobroff, “county regulations are in effect, but not fully implemented.” In discussing the public’s confusion over the current state of regulations and the challenges surrounding the policing of these regulations, Councilmember Gregg Carty noted, “It seems like there are so many rules and regulations that enforcement is near impossible.”
Much of the public comment was focused on complaints about the odors associated with marijuana cultivation, as well as concerns that cannabis has caused respiratory problems. Many of the calls for stronger regulations came from longtime Carpinteria residents who claim that they have seen negative effects directly related to the influx of cannabis growers in the area. Anna Carrillo, representing Concerned Carpinterians and the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, encouraged the council to take a stand, asking councilmembers to “send a strong message to the county and the Coastal Commission that the county needs to fix the ordinance and in the meantime, enact a pause on cannabis activity and inspect all claims of existing nonconforming uses.” Local resident Paul Ekstrom agreed, urging the council to take action, stating: “I’m asking you as stewards of our city to step up and put pressure on our county government to take charge, and not be pushed around by cannabis growers who put money ahead of our quality of life.”
Local farmers voiced negative impacts of cannabis cultivation processes on existing crops, such as lemons and avocados. Among them, avocado farmer Jim Bailard, encouraged the council to schedule an agenda item to look at the impacts the cannabis industry has had on other agricultural crops in the area. Timothy Buffalo followed with a warning, “This is going to ruin our valley. There will be no more Avocado Festival.”
At one point, after several impassioned speakers complained about negative impacts of cannabis cultivation in Carpinteria, Mayor Wade Nomura reminded the public to avoid personal attacks and to keep the commentary positive.
But not all comments criticized the cannabis industry or the county’s regulatory agencies. Several speakers highlighted the work that cannabis growers have put forth to comply with regulations and to listen to community members concerns, including speakers from CARP Growers (or Cannabis Association for Responsible Producers).
CARP Growers President Graham Farrar noted that the regulations in place are the result of hard work with the city, county and state. He said that the growers are working to comply with the strict standards of Santa Barbara County. “We started CARP Growers because we wanted to encourage best practices, because we wanted to help other operators do things right,” Farrar said. “We started it to improve relations with the community, and we started it as a vehicle to give back philanthropically…We are trying hard to follow the rules and do what’s right for Carpinteria, to be a good neighbor and part of this community… Agriculture is the backbone of Carpinteria, agriculture needs to evolve, or agriculture dies.”
Another CARP Growers member, Michael Palmer, remarked on the amount of misinformation being spread. And grower Sofie Van Wingerden spoke in favor of growers who are compliant, stating “We very much support the regulations that are being put in place. We work diligently to make sure we comply.”
During the council’s discussion, Councilmember Al Clark expressed concern for the members of the community that are “suffering health complaints while waiting for something to happen.” Councilmember Roy Lee urged fellow councilmembers to act by saying, “We have to be more aggressive…Let’s do more.” Ending the discussion, Nomura said, “I agree with you (the public in attendance), it’s something that has to be addressed, it has to be stopped, and there has to be some sort of balance between the two…The impacts right now are hindering the growth and the way we are living as Carpinterians.”
While the City Council’s ability to act is limited by their jurisdiction that extends only to the city limits, they plan to explore and discuss possibly issuing a resolution, letters to the county, Coastal Commission and state, and any further possible actions at a special meeting scheduled for June 17, at 5:30 p.m.